Armory Show II

IMG_0676IMG_0678IMG_0680IMG_0681More from the Contemporary side of things.  The first piece came from origami, and I loved the colors.  All of them were squares and played with ideas of folding without using any actual folding (Alyson Shotz).

Next were some African masks by Romuald Hazourme, made out of containers for liquid– gasoline, we would think of first, but I figured in Africa they would more likely be water containers.  New and people using what’s around, right?  And what do containers contain?  Something about who you are, or who you are going to be?

The buckets somehow had screens inside them, with views looking up, so that you would be looking down but looking up.  Clever and fun.

The last one in this entry is a branch rotating slowly, in front of a screen showing a similar branch.  The branch behind has its needles and the one in front of you does not.  Simple as this was, it was also a crowd-pleaser, showing how things are alive or not alive, or might be alive inside, a nice idea for the early March of a hard winter.

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Armory III

Starting here with a typewriter typing a long white bed sheet.  Well: a glossy, waterfalling scroll of paper.  Lovely, and I forgot to get the artist’s name again.

A color photo with color I was mad for.  Whether that was real or induced color, environment, I don’t know.   Or care.  (Robert Polidori.)

Two human studies: another one I loved for color, that made color new.  I think it was the denim color that made it.  (Meleko Mokgosi.)

I am accused of only liking paintings because of their use of yellow, and I am always guilty, but also, the shadows on this made Alex Katz’s piece a better composition than I expect from a face and a back.

Finally, here: people are interested in circuits right now, in making little lights part of things, in books and pictures, in a primitive, fifth-grade-scienc type of way.  I was unsuccessful in making the light bulb light up, even in my fifth grade science kit, so I don’t know that I can join up with this, but the last piece here by Haroon Mirza has solar panels to light up the lights in it, so it is a living sort of Mondrian.  (A piece I didn’t photograph was a Mondrian with drawer pulls glued on it.  I swear.)IMG_0682IMG_0683IMG_0687IMG_0689IMG_0691

Armory Show IV

Last of the Contemporary: a cycle of water glasses.  Iron hoop, three spots for water glasses.  It reminded me of a piece I saw at the New Museum the week before, a water glass with a  sign that says, “At night this water turns black.”  Ha. See how you are water, and how delicate it is that glasses of water keep us going?   (By Athanasios Argianas.)

Next to yellow, I love little drawings that are very neat and come in a series, little shape studies, and this was my favorite from the show, by Hordur Agustsson.

Color work again, where did it come from, where did it go?  (David Renngli.)

David Maisel’s photo of a horse x-ray (I assume that’s what it was) stopped a lot of people in the walkway between booths.  Everyone loved it.  Ghost horse, perfect space around it, the thickness and toughness of horse plus the delicacy of knowing everything has bones.

The blue one is great composition, and I don’t understand why that top corner is kind of unfinished, but that’s why I’m not a painter, right?  Not a hard-practicing painter, anyway, like David Scheibitz.

The last two are the fun, which was hidden back on the left side of Contemporary.  A group of Chinese artists made this punch-wall that people had apparently punched to get prizes.  I was there toward the end.  The other part of their exhibit, which I inexplicably forgot to photograph, was a lot of plastic-bagged objects laid out on the floor.  You could pay $20 and get three rings to play ring toss.  Ring a toy, get a toy.  I watched a white guy ring two toys, and choose what appeared to be a red rose made of fabric.

I’m feeling like a real chump for not playing.  I really am.

Finally: someone built some obnoxious blue sort of playground equipment, and we could climb on it and use it.  The piece I photographed was the fun one, the stand and spin.  I stood with two others and we all squealed as the spinner was much faster, oilier, than expected.  Whee!

(I forgot artists’ names for the last two.  Next time I’ll do better.  I swear.)

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Married

IMG_0292So I have married New York.  Everyone says the first year of marriage is hard.

I got an email about money trouble.  I have had several such issues out here, not even having to do with my admittedly mediocre money management skills, all having to do with some merciless behemoth bureaucracy.  In such an old and huge city, there are plenty of those.

I always head north when I am freaking out in Manhattan.  North of my work, the streets are a grid, and when I have calmed down, I know I’ll be able to figure out where the hell I am.  If I started walking south, I might be lost forever.

I can’t decide if Manhattan is a great place to freak out, or a terrible one.

Were we in love?  Yes.  Are there practical considerations that make things difficult?  Yes.  Are we in love?  I guess.

I walked north, north, on hold with the bank, phone to my ear, 4 pm, Friday, Manhattan, Eighth Avenue.  There is everything: every kind of food, every kind of shop, plenty of people, street by street, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and it’s occurring to me that this doesn’t make much sense, but I’m so cranked up, I don’t think I can sit still.

Streets here are often quiet.  Near my work, there are several places painted on the street, “LOOK,” with little eyes in the O’s.  We cross streets against the light constantly– even the wide avenues.  As long as someone else crosses with you, in a fleeting but playful alliance, and as long as you LOOK, you will probably not get hit by a car.

I was supposed to be going south, to happy hour with my colleagues, where everything was going to be all right, but no, here I went north, north, north.

23rd.  This is where it feels like midtown starts.  Midtown is crowded and brusque, and the architecture suddenly isn’t so great.  A man with excellent customer service skills told me everything was fine, and there was no problem, someone else must be mistaken.

I love some new things, like Christmas trees on the street that you can walk through and smell and smell.  Christmas trees in New York are out I’m the mix of things, just like the market bouquets that live outside all year, showing themselves gorgeous.  In the winter, they get a tent, but they are still out there.

I love living closely with other people.  Even though occasionally they wake me up on a school night or hit me with their bags, also sometimes they do my dishes and save me from mice and offer to carry my suitcase down the three flights of stairs to my apartment.

Once my money mess was settled, I started walking south.   Tables of cell phone covers and hats and gloves for sale.  People starting to get off work, tired and happy Friday.  Ten blocks south, to where the streets go wonky.

I walked into a dark West Village bar so old it looked soggy.  One half of the bar was six inches higher than the other.  Twenty people at a long table over to the side yelled joyously and raised their glasses.

They do that every time a new colleague shows up.  It’s pretty great.

 

 

Fantasyland

I was taken to Disney World as a child, but I don’t remember it.  I remember the book we got about Disney World.  I pored over the photos, and remembered my dad explaining that there used to be nuclear submarines, and a Mission to the Moon, and that the Matterhorn was only in California.  I held his stories, and the images in the book, closer than my own memories.  My sisters and I looked at the inside of the covers, at a mosaic of various characters, and tried to name them all.  Cinderalla, Peter Pan, of course, but also Brer Rabbit, Friar Tuck, the Aristocats.

As a child, I visited both Disney World and New York City.  They are my two favorite places in the world, which many people find bizzarre.  But they are similar.  New York is as rough and unsanitized as Disney World is clean.  New York is as aggressive as Disney World is romantic.  And both of them are living realizations of dreams.  Disney World is childhood fantasy, and New York is adult fantasy.  Disney World is adventure, kissing love, power without responsibility, dreams of flying.  New York is freedom, success, speed, choices.  New York is the manifestation of so many images in movies and on TV that it can almost feel like you can’t be there, really there, looking at the Brooklyn Bridge.  Dreams of fame and pain relieved, thirsts quenched.

When I was about eleven, we went into New York for the day with my grandparents.  We went into Macy’s for some reason– because it was famous, or because we knew it from the Thanksgiving parade?  I don’t know.  Inside the store, they had a special temporary set-up: make your own tape in our recording studio!  Be a rock star!  It was about 1987.  Tapes, still.  My grandpa asked me, “Do you want to do it?”

This was so outside my experience, being offered such a thing, that I hardly knew what to do.  My parents, like all good parents, were experts in “No.”  If we went someplace, we went for the experience.  At museums, we looked at dinosaurs.  At Disney World, we rode the rides.  We did not buy junk, and there was one snack a day, and the included events would be plenty.  You would not ask for more.  There was no point.

“Okay,” I said, partly because I was the oldest, and it was my job to be brave.  My little sisters were too young and too shy to try this.  First I had to choose a song.  I chose “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston, a song that remains quite apropos for me.  They put me in a snug booth with lyrics and headphones and a microphone, and I sang.  Many years before karaoke, this was an exotic experience.  I sang enthusiastically, boldly, like a beautiful, glamourous woman, I thought.

When I listened to my tape, my voice sounded thin and high.  I always thought of myself as a merely adequate singer, but my heart was still crushed.  I wasn’t a beautiful, glamourous woman.  I was a little girl.  Of course my grandparents and my mother said it sounded very nice.  What I remembered, years later, was that my grandpa had bought me something I remembered, an experience, and an artistic experience, of sorts.  Try something, make something, he offered.  Step into the dream.  Even if you disappoint yourself, it’s a better place to stand.

The Home of the Brave

Before the 1680s, a “bigot” referred specifically to a person intolerant of other religions.  After that time, it expanded to intolerance of all sorts of things– other races and cultures, for example.  The idea that there should not be a mosque near ground zero is covered before and after 1680.  There is no good reason to oppose building a Muslim religious center in downtown New York.  There is only bigotry.

I understand that September 11th caused people great suffering.  Pain is not an excuse for bigotry.  If you tell people a black man killed your mother, and that this makes you fear black people, you’ve suffered the loss of your mother, and then, in addition, you’re suffering from bigotry.  The human urge to avoid pain led you to generalize, set up a system that will prevent you from being hurt again.  A black person hurt me, so if I stay away from black people, I will be safe.  However, your fear doesn’t justify limiting where other people can live or work or worship.

Many people who are Muslim came to America for our famed religious tolerance, and I am ashamed at what they have found.  If we limited the freedom of Christians according to the danger some of them have posed in the past, I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.  That says nothing about the true ethics of our religious tradition.  It only speaks to the possibility of illness twisting the human mind.

It would be beautiful to have a mosque and a Muslim community center in downtown in New York.  It would speak to those children, the ones dressed up for prayer and thrashing through swimming lessons and swooping their eyes along elegant Arabic script.  It would say: we are a tolerant, enlightened country, a place where you are welcome, where we value your contribution and we are ready to partner with you in transforming our society.  What are your ideas?  What are your dreams?  We move on from crushed dreams and death here.  That is what we do.  We don’t blame or shut down.  We heal, and open up, and move on.

This week I taught at a little summer program.  The students in this program will all get their college education paid for, every penny of it, if they keep their grades up and attend meetings and classes in addition to their schoolwork.  They’re all poor, by some definition, and unlikely to go to college otherwise.  One group did a skit which included a girl singing the national anthem.  I always feel awkward about the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, because in my insanity, I’m always thinking, Didn’t nationalism cause World War I?  Isn’t nationalism kind of backward and dangerous?

But as we stood up and I put my hand over my heart to be a good example, to be respectful, I looked around the room at white and black and Latino Americans, at parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles and siblings and cousins and teachers and professors, and I felt a little choked up.  We were in the basement of a church in an old neighborhood, a place where society once isolated the black community like a virus, and the air conditioning was pititifully weak, and I wasn’t sure if everyond understood English, but we all stood up and we listened to this girl sing our torturedly operatic national anthem.  She shifted around keys, kind of at random.  No one complained.  Everyone showed her respect and tolerance, because that’s how we want her world to be.  There is tolerance and respect all over the world.  I’m just especially proud when I see it at home.

Still Waters

St. Paul was a New Yorker. People from New York are recognizeable by their svelte builds, the glow of 14 karat cultural immersion, and the easy eyes that own everything and are never impressed.  Two thousand years ago, you see, Rome was New York.  Now it is a tourist trap.  That might give New York a little humility, although with humility, New York would not be itself.

I don’t know how to describe Kansas City. I’ve lived here most of my life, so I can’t really see it clearly.  I try a few comparisons: it’s Detroit without Motown.  It’s Chicago with way less money, many fewer people, and better weather.  It’s Minneapolis without famous writers.  It’s Omaha, with more grit and slobber.  It’s home, which is always and never enough.

I have described Kansas City as a “backwater,” which isn’t necessarily an insult.  You won’t be swept away here.  Your talent might go unexpressed, unfired, or unappreciated, but you won’t be worn down by the current.  You won’t be tossed aside.  There isn’t that much force in the life here.  You can soak peacefully.

The things I do love in Kansas City are the western city things: the space and the broken and abandoned spaces in the city, the way people put things together and share.  What I love is that there is a rebellion to creating culture in a place where people don’t look for culture.  We make things for ourselves and for their own sake.  If your ambition was to set the world on fire, you wouldn’t be here.  But who needs the world?  What does that mean, anyway?  How dare other people define “the world” for us?

Other people are out front of us.  The coasts are trying things out, so that we don’t have to.  They make the bigger mistakes.  They make themselves fools.  We wait things out.  They think bigger and wilder.  We think deeper and sleep more.  Some days I think that the fateful events that kept me a Kansas Citian all these years strangled my ambition and muffled my voice.  That I am one of the lost, small people that no one cares about, where nothing starts and nothing flames up.

Today is the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. The day they share, although they both have their own individual holidays as well.  Today is the day they stand together, two people who had little in common, and almost definitely did not get along.  It’s encouragement to everyone now who goes to church with people they have nothing in common with, and don’t like.

St. Peter was from a backwater, and probably remained a person who would be dismissed by New Yorkers. He did not know how to navigate Rome.  I love St. Paul because he is the Chrysler Building.  While I’ve always loved Paul more, mouthy, scholarly Paul, I am probably more like Peter: his serviceable boat, his insistence on circumcision, and my about-town Honda, my dismissal of skinny jeans.  That doesn’t mean some of us won’t make a splash.  Some of Peter’s friends became quite famous, considering how boring and lame as Galilee was.  You just never know.